'will' and 'would'

Level: beginner

We use will:

  • to express beliefs about the present or future
  • to talk about what people want to do or are willing to do
  • to make promises, offers and requests.

would is the past tense form of will. Because it is a past tense, it is used:

  • to talk about the past
  • to talk about hypotheses (when we imagine something)
  • for politeness.

Beliefs

We use will to express beliefs about the present or future:

John will be in his office. (present)
We'll be late. (future)
We will have to take the train. (future)

We use would as the past of will, to describe past beliefs about the future:

I thought we would be late, so we would have to take the train.

Willingness

We use will:

  • to talk about what people want to do or are willing to do:

We'll see you tomorrow.
Perhaps Dad will lend me the car.

  • to talk about typical behaviour, things that we often do (because we are willing to do them):

We always spend our holidays at our favourite hotel at the seaside. We'll get up early every morning and have a quick breakfast then we'll go across the road to the beach.

We use would as the past tense of will:

  • to talk about what people wanted to do or were willing to do in the past:

We had a terrible night. The baby wouldn't go to sleep.
Dad wouldn't lend me the car, so we had to take the train.

  • to talk about typical behaviour, things that we often did (because we were willing to do them) in the past:

When they were children they used to spend their holidays at their grandmother's at the seaside. They'd get up early every morning and have a quick breakfast. Then they'd run across the road to the beach.

Promises, offers and requests

We use I will or We will to make promises and offers:

I'll give you a lift home after the party.
We'll come and see you next week.

We use Will you … ? or Would you … ? to make requests:

Will you carry this for me, please?
Would you please be quiet?

will and would 1

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will and would 2

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will and would 3

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Level: intermediate

Hypotheses and conditionals

We use will in conditionals to say what we think will happen in the present or future:

I'll give her a call if I can find her number.
You won't get in unless you have a ticket.

We use would to make hypotheses:

  • when we imagine a situation:

It would be very expensive to stay in a hotel.
I would give you a lift, but my wife has the car today.

  • in conditionals:

I would give her a call if I could find her number.
If I had the money, I'd buy a new car.
You would lose weight if you took more exercise.
If he got a new job, he would probably make more money.
What if he lost his job? What would happen then?

We also use conditionals to give advice :

Dan will help you if you ask him.

Past tenses are more polite:

Dan would help you if you asked him.

will and would: hypotheses and conditionals

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See also: Verbs in time clauses and conditionals

Level: beginner

Expressions with would

We use:

  • would you…, would you mind (not) -ing for requests:

Would you carry this for me, please?
Would you mind carrying this?
Would you mind not telling him until tomorrow?

  • would you like ..., would you like to ...  for offers and invitations:

Would you like another drink?
Would you like to come round tomorrow?

  • I would like …, I'd like … (you)(to) ... to say what we want or what we want to do:

I'd like that one, please.
I'd like to go home now.

  • I'd rather… (= I would rather) to say what we prefer:

I'd rather have the new one, not the old one.
I don't want another drink. I'd rather go home.

  • I would thinkI would imagine, I'd guess to give an opinion when we are not sure or when we want to be polite:

It's very difficult, I would imagine.
I would think that's the right answer.

Expressions with would 1

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Expressions with would 2

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Submitted by melvinthio on Sun, 23/05/2021 - 10:59

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Dear Kirk and Peter, What's the difference of meaning between using "will" and "would" in these two sentences ? 1) If he helps me, I will return the favour. 2) If he helps me, I would return the favour. Thanks

Hi melvinthio,

Sentence 1 sounds like it is describing a promise or a commitment that you have already made. Sentence 2 seems more like a hypothetical situation, i.e., you have not actually promised or committed to help him, but you would do that if he helps you. Sentence 2 conveys more uncertainty than sentence 1 about whether this whole situation will actually happen or not, because it uses would.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Jonathan for your explanation. So, for sentence 2 : "If he helps me, I would return the favour", can I understand it this way? [1] Using "would" means that in my present imagination, "returning his favour" is something that's existing in my mind right now, but I'm not sure yet what I will actually do later if he helps me, I might do a different thing later, I don't know. This sense is in contrast with the sentence 1 using "will" which gives the implication that I have made the promise or commitment to return the favour if he helps me. [2] You explained that sentence 2 is more uncertain than sentence 1 about whether the whole situation will actually happen or not. I assume what you mean by "the whole situation will actually happen or not" refers to the main clause using "would", and not to the if clause because the two if clauses have the same tense, i.e. present tense. Is my assumption right? I would appreciate your clear explanation and if possible, please provide me with an example to make it clearer. Thanks.
To make it simple for me to understand the combined usage of present tense in if-clause + "would" in tye main clause (if he helps me, I would return the favour), please help me explain whether there is a difference between : (1) if he helps me, I would return the favour (present tense + would) (2) if he helped me, I would return the favour (second conditiinal). Thanks

Hi melvinthio,

I’ll list the three sentences here again:

  1. If he helps me, I will return the favour.
  2. If he helps me, I would return the favour.
  3. If he helped me, I would return the favour.

About your question [1], sentence 2 doesn’t mean that the speaker is unsure what he/she will do later. (That is the meaning of might, e.g. If he helps me, I might return the favour). If the speaker says I would return the favour, he/she is definitely willing to do that, given that the condition (if he helps me) is fulfilled.

 

About question [2], it is unclear whether sentence 2 is describing:

  • a real or possible future situation (as in sentence 1, a first conditional), or
  • an unreal/hypothetical one (as in sentence 3, a second conditional).

It's unclear because sentence 2 has the if-clause of a first conditional, and the main clause of a second conditional. You are right to note that the if-clauses are the same in sentences 1 and 2. However, it is important to note that to understand each sentence, we need to interpret what the two clauses mean in relation to each other, not separately. That’s because the actions in the two clauses are logically connected (a condition and a result). This is why I wrote that sentence 2 is more uncertain than sentence 1. It’s not only about the would clause, because the would clause depends on the if-clause. If the if-clause describes a real future but the main clause describes an unreal future, the sentence overall is ambiguous about whether the condition-result belong to a real or unreal future, and the listener will have to use other information (e.g. the context in which it is said) to interpret whether this is a real or unreal offer to return the favour.

 

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan, Once again thanks so much for your clear explanation. Yes, it makes sense that If the if-clause describes a real future but the main clause describes an unreal future (e.g. if he helps, I would return his favour), the sentence overall is ambiguous about whether the condition-result belongs to a real or unreal future. However, this kind of combined structure is often used by English native speakers in spoken English. I have never seen an explanation for this combination in grammar books, so I need your help. If, from the context in which it is said, it is already clear that this combined structure refers to the first or second conditional, it means that the semantic problem of this structure is solved. But is it grammatically right to use it to replace the first or second conditional sentence? I was hoping you would help me with a clear explanation to this grammatical issue. Best regards,

Hi melvinthio,

Is it grammatically right? This is a simple question with a complicated answer :)

The answer depends on your view about what grammar is, and what it is for. Some people think of grammar as a set of rules which people must follow. In this point of view, the sentence is incorrect, since:

  • it doesn’t conform to the first or second conditional structure.
  • course books rarely or never teach this structure (as you pointed out).

On the other hand, some people see grammar as a way to describe (not prescribe) how people actually use language in real life, including new and creative ways that may not be traditionally regarded as correct. In this point of view, it can be considered correct, because:

  • the sentence does mean something (despite the ambiguity of the realness-unrealness), and listeners can make sense of it by using contextual information.
  • in real life, people do sometimes make constructions like this (as you pointed out).

Another thing to consider is the situation. One way to judge correctness is the appropriateness in the situation. In a discussion about a legal contract or in a language exam, for instance, when there is an expectation that a person should speak very clearly and precisely, I wouldn’t recommend saying that sentence, since the meaning is ambiguous. But in ordinary conversation, I think it would be fine.

What do you think?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Jonathan, thanks so much for your clear explanation. Now, I have another query about the usage of the word "ever" specifically in affirmative sentences. Can we use it in relative clauses [examples 1&2] and that clauses [examples 3&4] ? E.g. : [1] Any of the books he has ever written is great. [2] This is the topic we have ever discussed. [3] I'm sure he has ever phoned her. [4] I think we have ever met before. I would highly appreciate your help. Best regards,

Hi melvinthio,

I’m assuming you mean the most common meaning of ever: at any time. Actually, I wouldn't use ever in these sentences, except perhaps [1].

In [1], ever is redundant because any of the books already gives the idea of 'at any time'. So, I would delete it, but it's OK to keep ever if you want to specially emphasise the 'at any time' idea.

[2] refers to a particular discussion, so ever doesn’t fit the meaning. The discussion happened at some particular time (not at any time), even if the time is not stated here or I may not know or remember when it happened.

In [3] and [4] too, ever doesn't fit the meaning. If you are sure he has phoned her or you think we have met before, these events must have happened at some time (not at any time).

I hope that helps! If you have any more questions about ever, please post them on our Present perfect or Perfect aspect pages. We can continue the conversation there :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mussorie on Sat, 22/05/2021 - 14:35

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Could you please explain the extent of the possibility or the probability of this given statement happening or it being true when we use "would" in imaging a situation(hypotheses case)? It would be very expensive to stay in a hotel. Is it like we are imagining it to be true?

Hello Mussorie,

I'm afraid it's impossible to say how possible or probable it is without being the person who says this and knowing the situation he or she is in. It could, for example, be that two people with a limited budget are discussing whether to go visit an expensive city; in this case, they're talking about a possibility which could be something they're really considering, or it could be just a dream -- that is, very unlikely. Only the context and the speaker's perception determine this.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Ok, I can understand the context, but it is given as an example in would and will usage on this site. One more thing I would like to ask is that is the "would" used in the present tense aspect as an imaginary, meaning whether is the action or state possible to some extent or completely imaginary (not possible).

Hello Mussorie,

I'm not sure what you mean by 'present tense aspect', but we can certainly use would to describe both unlikely and entirely imaginary situations:

It would be nice to go to the cinema (if they were open).

It would be nice to fly to the moon (if I had superpowers).

 

If you have a different context in mind then we'll be happy to comment, of course.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

The present tense aspect means present tense, but if we use would in the present tense context then can we expect the action or state to be likely to happen or completely imaginary.

Hello again Mussorie,

Please provide a concrete example of what you have in mind (an example sentence). I think it will be much clearer if we are looking at something concrete rather than speaking in abstract terms.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 12:30

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Sir, in award winning show when somone win the award and give the speech to the audience, winner says, "i would say thanks to my director and producer and so so". What is "would" in this context? Does would express the present tense here?? Subject is saying thanks in present time. would has many uses, some of which also express present tense. 1. I would read. - reading in present time 2.i will read- reading in future time.

Hello Rsb,

I think what they usually say is I'd [would] like to thank..., which is a common way to express an intention,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

No I mean to say 'would' has many uses some of which even express the present tense.

Hello Rsb,

I agree with what Peter said about what people often say when they accept awards. I wouldn't say that 'would' is used to express a present time. In general, 'I would read' is speaking about an imaginary time, not a real moment in time. I suppose you could call it an imaginary present time in some cases, but it's impossible to say without more context and I wouldn't generally recommend thinking of it that way.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir, I agree with you. Imaginary present time in some cases suppose, India and England team are presently playing now and I say "sachin would be batting now" so it's an imagination in present time as match is running in present time. Would is used for imaginary situation of past and present time. But I read somewhere, 'would' can also be used to express the present tense even u don't imagine just general talk

Submitted by Rsb on Thu, 22/04/2021 - 05:00

In reply to by Rsb

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Hi sir, I agree with you. Imaginary present time in some cases suppose, India and England team are presently playing now and I say "sachin would be batting now" so it's an imagination in present time as match is running in present time. Would is used for imaginary situation of past and present time. But I read somewhere, 'would' can also be used to express the present tense even u don't imagine just general talk one more example, like we are talking and you ask me suggestion of going somewhere and I say, 'I would suggest you must go'. So here, did I imagine something in present time. It's just a general talk. I am suggesting you in present time. Not for future I will say you must go. I will say would be incorrect.

Hello Rsb,

It sounds to me as if you understand this.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Rsb,

Phrases such as I would say/suggest/think (etc) are not about time. They are forms which show politeness or tentativeness. They can be thought of as a form of conditional: If you were were to ask me, I'd say...

 

In your example about Sachin, I think will is more appropriate. Sachin was an opener, as you know, so you could imagine a situation where you hear that the opposition have been bowled out and India are about to start their innings; in this case you would be able to say 'Sachin will be batting right now'. You don't know this for sure, but you can speculate about the present. We would not use would in this case as it would suggest an unreal situation. You might use would if, for example, you know it is raining and so Sachin is not batting; then you could say 'Sachin would be batting (if it weren't raining)'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mussorie on Tue, 25/05/2021 - 07:37

In reply to by Peter M.

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Here, in this case, you said "would" is used to express intention, but I would like to know whether is the intention here used as imaginary or likely possible?

Hello Mussorie,

The person saying this is speaking about the intention for what they are saying in the moment. It's a more polite way of saying 'I want to thank ...' You could also just say 'I thank ...' here, but the commonly accepted way of doing this politely is to use 'I would like to thank ...'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Crokong on Thu, 08/04/2021 - 12:26

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Sir, English grammar books often say if "would" can be used to make statements sound less direct. Whereas I'm still unclear what "less direct" is. Therefore, could you explain more clearly what the meaning of "less direct" in the use of "would" is?

Hi Crokong,

Let's take a look at some examples.

  1. We absolutely should go to the beach today!
  2. Let's go to the beach today!
  3. Shall we go to the beach today?
  4. It would be nice to go to the beach today.
  5. It would be nice if we could perhaps go to the beach today.

All these sentences suggest the same thing (going to the beach). But can you feel some differences in style between them, and that some of them put more pressure on the reader/listener to agree or respond?

 

I've listed the sentences in order of directness (1 = most direct; 5 = least direct). In sentences 1 and 2, the suggestions are given quite flatly and simply. The reader/listener will feel some pressure to agree or respond. That's what's meant by 'direct'.

Sentences 4 and 5 are the opposite - they put relatively low pressure on the reader/listener to agree or respond. We might avoid putting pressure on, for example, if we want to show that we respect the reader/listener's authority (as with a manager at work, for example), or if we want to avoid seeming too demanding or pushy. The indirectness comes from the use of would, to present 'going to the beach' as a hypothetical action (i.e., not yet definitely possible or real; dependent on the reader/listener's agreement). Sentence 5 is even more indirect, using could and perhaps.

Sentence 3 is somewhere in the middle.

Does that help?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. Your explanation is very clear. I have example sentences that makes me a bit confused. If you moved your chair a bit, we could all sit down. It would be nice if you helped me with the homework. Are the sentences above also a less direct way?

Hi Crokong,

Yes, that's right! Some examples of more direct ways to say these things are Move your chair so we can all sit down and Help me with the homework.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gendeng on Wed, 07/04/2021 - 11:01

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It will be a cat or it would be a cat? Which choice is right?

Hello Gendeng,

Both sentences are grammatically possible. Without a context there's no way to say which would be the better choice.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by whitekrystal on Wed, 31/03/2021 - 08:38

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Which one should I use "will" or "would" in the following sentence? A: Let me help you with your homework. B: That would/will be great.

Hello whitekrystal,

Here we typically say 'would'. There is nothing really grammatically wrong with 'will' here, and we use 'That will be great' in situations when we're talking about something more in the future. But here, where the help seems to be immediate, we say 'would'. I'm afraid I don't have a good explanation in terms of grammar; it's almost as if it's a fixed phrase we use to respond to offers in the moment.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Mon, 29/03/2021 - 10:53

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My grammar books says the modal verbs "would" and "could" also makes suggestions less direct. I thought it would be nice to have a picnic. We could ask Peter to help us. My question is what is "less direct"?

Hello Crokong,

It sounds to me as if your grammar book is describing how these forms can be used to speak more politely. One of the ideas behind politeness in English is that it is impolite to demand people to do things. But of course we need to ask people to do things for us very frequently, and so one important way of being polite is to make our requests less direct. One way to do this is to put your request in the form of a question -- instead of saying 'I want a cup of tea', I can say 'Can I have a cup of tea?' It's as if the other person could say no to our request, and in the logic of English, this is considerably more polite.

Another way of making a request or suggestion less direct is to use a verb form that emphasises possibility. Following the previous example, I could use 'could' instead of 'can' in my question: 'Could I have a cup of tea?' Using 'could' makes it sound as if my request is less urgent, and therefore imposes less on the person I'm asking. Often we call this 'being less direct' -- the fact that we make the request in a way that allows the other person to refuse (even if actually they cannot refuse) is considered more polite.

In the second example you ask about it, the same idea is at work. By saying 'could', we make this idea a suggestion rather than a command, which makes it less direct and therefore more polite. In the first example, using a past tense form also makes the request less immediate and so it's more polite than saying 'I think'.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk. Thanks for the explanation. By the way, what is the difference between the following? I think it would be nice to have a picnic. I would think it's nice to have a picnic.

Hello Crokong,

What do you think the differences could be? I'd encourage you to try to explain what you think the differences are, and then I can comment on your explanation.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rafaela1 on Sat, 27/03/2021 - 12:46

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I like "will" when it is used to talk about typical behaviour, things that we often do. ;)

Submitted by Selet on Fri, 26/03/2021 - 17:35

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Sir, the writer/speaker says this sentence before the game begins: If Manchester United kept a clean sheet tonight, it would be their fouth in a row in the Premier league. If I won this race, I would buy a new car. But I think it'a also correct to say these sentences before the game: If Manchester United keep a clean sheet tonight, it will be... If I won this race, I will... I completely get it that the type first conditional is used to predict in this case. However, how about the type 2 conditional? What situation is it like? I'm confused because it can be used to express the future as well.

Hi Selet,

Yes, this is a commonly asked question! Have a look at this explanation and the full comment thread. I hope it helps to answer your question :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dwishiren on Fri, 19/03/2021 - 10:04

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I'm a bit condlfused. Can the type 2 conditional be used to make suggestions? For example. If you moved your chair a bit, we could all sit down. If you used this, it would suggest... I would appreciate you if you helped me. The sentences don't mean that you don't mave your chair/you don't use this/you don't help me.

Hello Dwishiren,

Yes, you can use conditional forms in this way.

If you move your chair, we'll all be able to sit down.

If you moved your chair, we'd all be able to (we could all) sit down.

The first example is more direct; the second more tentative and possibly more polite, depending on the situation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Mon, 15/03/2021 - 07:29

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It would be better to paint it green. (= in reality, you don't plaint it green, so it's not better) It would be really great if you could fill out your biography. (= in reality, you don't fill out your biography, so it's not really great) Is my understanding right?

Hello Jembut,

Yes, that's correct. The implication in the second sentence in particular is that you might still do the task, so the statement is really functioning as a polite suggestion or request (Please fill out...).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by whitekrystal on Sat, 13/03/2021 - 05:41

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Hi. I'm sure that "would" here means "will be possible." Because the goal hasn't happened. If it's goal, "will" will be used. What do you think? A second goal for United in these closing stages would make things very interesting.

Hello whitekrystal,

It's not about whether or not a goal has been scored: in both situations there has not been a goal. Rather, it's about how the speaker sees the situation. Using would suggests that a second goal is unlikely. Using will suggests that it is a genuine possibility.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi again whitekrystal,

It's not that the second goal is or is not unlikely as a matter of fact; it's how the speaker sees it. If the speaker believes that a second goal is likely then they will use 'will'. If the speaker believes that a second goal is unlikely then they will use 'would'. Both are grammatically correct; the speaker chooses according to how they see the situation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Tue, 09/03/2021 - 21:20

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Hello sir. In the sentence "it would be nice...", what does " would" mean? Questioner: What does 'probe down' mean in footbal context? Richarlison probes down the left and wins a corner off James. Answer: It would be nice to have a bit more context to work with here, but if it is something like a soccer / football game, the interpretation is clear.